Crocheting Christmas

Apparently there’s less than a week to go until Christmas. Who knew?
Not me anyhow. I’m not feeling remotely Chrimbly; not in a bah humbug kind of way but just a ‘meh’ sort of thing. It may have something to do with the fact that our children have flown the nest and won’t be with us; it may have a little to do with a touch of disgust at the whole consumerism of it; but I also think it’s a bit of a down side of not doing ‘work’ work anymore. There’s no Christmas do to avoid (well technically there was, I’d agreed to go along to the one with my old work but I’ve bottled it), no holidays to take (I’m allowing myself one day off) and money is fairly tight (it’s early days with the weaving and this month has not been free of unexpected costs).
So all in all I’m just not feeling it.
In the past there has been the odd holiday season where I’ve felt like I’m missing out on the party, for various reasons; some part of life and others self inflicted, but this year I’m just choosing not to pay too much attention to it.
Christmas has become a bit of a first world problem, the original spirit has become diluted by money and endless adverts. I could decide to do something worthy instead, like help out at a homeless shelter, but options are fairly limited for that kind of thing here in Caithness and, to be honest, I quite fancy a day off.
A day to slob about, eat chocolate for breakfast, walk the dogs and crochet to my heart’s content. Speaking of which, my ripple throw is coming along nicely,

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It’s very soothing and doesn’t need much concentration. Cheap and cheerful, just how our Christmas will be I hope.
However you are spending Christmas, dear reader, may it be a peaceful and content one.

Wool wool WOOL

Now that I’m weaving baby wraps for a living much of my time is spent with fibres such as cotton and linen. Lovely as they are they’re just not wool. I was just finishing a custom wrap and found myself wondering how the rest of the warp would work with a wool weft. Now this is something I’ve been pondering for a while, wool wraps are out there and I attempted one a few weeks back with not unsuccessful results, just not the ones I’d planned on. I used some Jaggerspun Zephyr, a blend of silk and merino that, in my book anyway, isn’t what I’d call wool. Well, technically it involves sheep in some of the process somewhere along the line, but not proper sheep. Not the kind that you’d find dotted about the Scottish Highlands anyhow. Now a Cheviot or Blue Face Leicester definitely fall into the sheep category, mention a Jacob and we’re really talking sheep.

IMG_4432.JPG(photo courtesy The Jacob Sheep Society).
However, I didn’t have any suitable Jacob wool lying around, lots of fleece but no yarn. I did happen to have a large cone of undyed Shetland; what could be more perfect? The custom part of the warp is going to a Shetlander so especially perfect.
Oh my, I’d forgotten the wonder of wool. The smell and feel of it, the promise of cosiness and the feeling that all is right in the world.
Now Shetland weaving yarn comes ‘greasy’, I know there’s a very important reason for this and I can’t for the life of me remember why but it makes it feel even more sheepy.

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Weaving with it was wonderful, it made me feel like I was home again.
The best bit though is the wet finishing; obviously you can’t just throw wool (not normal wool that hasn’t been treated with nasty chemicals to make it ‘superwash’) into the washing machine. So into the bath it went with several kettles of boiling water on top (our boiler doesn’t really get the water quite hot enough) for a good soak. Then the ‘bloom’ appears, that lovely kind of fuzziness that begs you to stroke it…oh I LOVE wool. Proper wooly wool. If I were a baby this is what I would want to be wrapped in, never mind your namby pamby merino, no proper WOOL. I subscribe to the Elizabeth Zimmermann philosophy on babies and wool; she insisted on dressing even babies with wool allergies in wool. Not because she had a slightly sadistic streak but because wool is one of nature’s best materials – warm when it’s cold yet breathable and cool when it’s warm.
She suggested that if you wanted a wool that was machine washable and dry-able, maybe you should wonder why babies can’t be similarly treated?
So I love the wrap. It hasn’t sold yet; I’ve made it clear in the listing that it could be perceived as itchy (not to me but I once had a ball of hand dyed rare breed wool return by someone who was unhappy it wasn’t soft enough) and I kind of hope it doesn’t sell so I can turn it into the most beautiful blanket and snuggle down into a lovely sheepy wooly hug.

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Christmas Present

I know I’m probably preaching to the converted but if we are to stand any chance against being completely homogenised then it’s really really really worth trying to buy your Christmas gifts from small independent retailers.
A reason I’ve gone off real shopping as opposed to virtual (although there’s nothing virtual about my credit card bill!) is because it seems as though every shopping centre in the UK, whether in a mall, or on the high street is exactly the same. The shop selling beautiful, individually produced goodies is far and few between (although if you happen to be in Nottingham, the Tokenhouse is a wonderful place to wander through).
So I did all my shopping online via Etsy this year. Now there has been some controversy about Etsy recently as they changed their policies and allow shops to sell mass produced goods, often imported from places that don’t pay a living wage so you need to be careful and check out the individual shops to ensure they are selling handmade unique items made by the owner, and that you’re not buying tat. Usually the price is a good giveaway, of course (‘buy cheap, but twice’ is something you’ll often hear in our household).
I’ve noticed a huge increase in the number of handwoven things for sale for pennies; obviously this is direct competition for me but it also raises questions about the provenance of the materials for said items, the conditions for the weavers and the most likely huge profit someone is making, without much work themselves.
I use very good quality yarns, coloured with dyes that haven’t impacted upon the environment and that are ethically produced (no mulesling merino in my shop) as well as paying myself a reasonable wage (well it keeps me in chocolate so I’m happy).
Enough of me, there are some gorgeous shops on Etsy and I’ve decided to show you just a few. Now, one is run by a friend but I’m objective about this and firmly believe it is worth a look; but the others are shops I’ve bought from recently and have been really impressed by the excellent service and wonderful goodies they are selling.
Now, hoping that none of my giftees are reading this (Anne, look away NOW!) the first shop I came across was Little Green Soap, I sent a message with my order asking for a long list of requirements regarding packaging and delivery addresses etc and she was wonderful and sent me some photos of the soaps gift wrapped (no extra charge!!) before they were posted.

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Just stunning service, as good as Amazon can be, they don’t come anywhere near this.
If you have a knitter or spinner in your life, you can’t go far wrong with SnowberryLime, she sells gorgeous fibre and I ‘aquired’ (ahem), a very pretty hand carded batt from her recently, that is destined to become part of a Saori style shawl once spun.

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For super cute stocking fillers, try Felt in Devon, look at this little chap, sooo squidgey!

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Finally, my friend makes and sells jewellery to a very high quality and I’ve bought from her both for myself (a bracelet that never comes off) and as gifts (my Step mother was very happy with her birthday present). Lookee here:

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So pretty and the colours she uses are classic, muted tones that can be worn with anything.
So that’s all for now folks, even if you just buy one of your Christmas presents from an independent online UK maker, you’ll not only be buying something that supports the British economy (as opposed to some of the policies that make the rich richer and poor even poorer but I’ll not say more about that), have something that no-one else will (how precious is that?) but as someone who speaks from experience, you’ll also be making that retailer’s day.
Finally finally, and I promise that’s all, how about a handwoven teatowel? I know just the shop…

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Weaving Heart

Wonky weaving

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These are the latest wraps off the loom for a lovely mama in Singapore, called ‘Reflexion del Sol’ (the wraps that is rather than the mama).
These are not my usual colours so it’s been good to make something different. The inspiration photo was of a Spanish church with sunlight shining through the stained glass so it was a challenge to capture the luminosity. I used mercerised yarn for the warp, with a glorious sheen, to try and emulate this and over 800 threads with more than 12 colours (can’t remember exactly off the top of my head but there were a lot) of blues, greens, yellow and red.
I’m generally pleased with how they turned out although I had a couple of broken threads at one selvedge which caused some issues; when that happens it’s hard not to weave really quickly to get to the end before it all falls apart completely! Instead it’s way better to go against my instincts (isn’t it always?!?) and take more time and care to ensure the best possible result.
However, I was not best pleased with how it looked. To be completely honest, I went into a bit of denial, stormed ahead hemming and finishing the wraps which were posted earlier this week. Then I breathed and realised that This. Was. Not. Ok. I’ve had really good feedback on my selvedges and in the baby wearing world, good sharp fabric edges are a big deal and can affect the resale value, so I swallowed my fear and contacted the mama who had bought it. Needless to say she was lovely and will let me know her thoughts once the wrap arrives.
It’s reminded me that I just can’t sit with feeling uncomfortable about my actions. I learnt a while a go that for a peaceful and content life, I need to be able to look myself firmly in the mirror and know I’ve done good; not because I’m a ‘good’ person (I don’t believe in the concepts of good and bad in respect to people but more of that maybe another time) but because I, rather self interestedly, like to sleep easy. It also reinforces that life, difficult as it can be, is so much easier if we are open about our flaws, our wonky selvedges and broken threads.
Ok enough of the naval gazing, I’m going to show off the beautifully flawed wraps now…because aren’t we all?

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No snow

While the U.S. is buried under a huge pile of snow, it is still unseasonably warm here. We eat breakfast in the conservatory and it’s not uncomfortable to leave the doors open so the dogs can charge wander in and out while we scoff our porridge.
I feel kind of cheated, I mean, we live as far North as it’s possible to get on the British mainland and even when we’ve had snow, it’s been far worse farther South. How does that happen?!? (Actually that was a rhetorical question, technically I have a little understanding why it is, something to do with the Gulf Stream and living on the coast but emotionally it makes me want to stamp my feet).
Snow maintains a magical quality, probably something to do with years of conditioning in response to clever marketing of perfect Christmases and crackling log fires and very little to do with the misery I imagine many are living with somewhere on the other side of the Atlantic right now.
When we lived in a city, snow was especially beautiful as it threw a clean (well initially) blanket over all the grime and tatters; here it adds to the view, making everything picture perfect.
It’s the perfect weather for us knitters, spinners and weavers too. We can snuggle down and knit/spin/weave away to our hearts’ content and when we have to leave the comforts of central heating, don the scarves, hats, sweaters and gloves that we have been dying to show off all year (unless like me, you just can’t wait so end up sweltering in a fair isle in July muttering about how wool is supposed to be temperature regulating).
So until the mythical Arctic Freeze arrives I shall content myself with a photo from some time back.

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Happy hooking

I’ve been enjoying a little bit of hooking recently. My knitting got cast aside after I realised, several months of knitting in, that the jumper in progress will fit both me and Mr Weaving Heart at the same time! I’m not really sure what happened that I hadn’t realised this before really. So it has been relegated to The Cupboard where it will remain until I forget that it’s HUGE and denial has set back in.
Until then, I thought I would make another crocheted blanket.
This is the previous one;

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and I love it, it’s bright, cheerful and being largely made from the ‘A’ word it can withstand lots of washing and tumble drying. I have commenced upon a similar one; the yarn is Stylecraft and is cheap as chips, the pattern is from the lovely Lucy of Attic 24 (Google her, I’m simply too lazy to sort out a link, sorry) and is fabulous mindless evening crafty indulgence.

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The weaving studio is nearly nearly finished and we’re just awaiting the reappearance of the electrician to wire up the fuse box for things like light and heat, nothing important then. I will say no more, just know that my silence speaks volumes.

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I must be warped

Well, the wicked witch of the warping weaver (how’s that for alliteration?!?) has paid me a visit today. Sad face.
I’ve been waiting for a sectional warping beam to arrive and then waiting for the right opportunity to get it all set up and learn how to use it.
I finished a warp at the weekend and the next one planned was for a scarf commission for 5/2 bamboo in stripes (it’s a pinwheel draft so that means a stripy warp with a stripy weft to make cute little windmills) so not too fine and fairly straightforward.
Ha! You think so…?
Ok, first I had to work out how much yarn to wind onto the bobbins, the yarn winds straight from these onto the beam and you need one bobbin for every thread in the warp.

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For the beam on my loom, I can wind it in 2cm (all metric, I’ll have to learn not to think in inches) sections so for this I needed 16 bobbins for each one. Well to be honest I kind of winged it; the instructions suggest weighing the bobbins and then winding on the weight of yarn needed and subtracting the bobbin weight from the final weight to work out how much yarn you have wound on….eh?!? What a performance. Firstly, I don’t think in terms of yarn weight anyway, well maybe for knitting but definitely not for weaving; so I simply couldn’t be doing with trying to get my head around that. Secondly, it seemed like a real faff; winding a bit, taking the bobbin off the winder to weigh it, winding a bit more…you get my drift?
So I simply kind of looked at it. And then wound on a bit more, just to be sure and to abate the weaving Goddess.
Then the bobbins go onto the bobbin rack, a la the photo. Easy. Well, until I knocked it and all the spindles fell out and the bobbins all slid off and the ends got tangled up. Much swearing occurred at this point.
Next came the threading of each end through the tension device (the scary looking thing with the big cog attached to the loom).
Each end. Through the tension device.
I’ll say no more about this part.
Once I’d managed to attach these to the beam, I could start to wind the section onto the loom, bent double while holding up the friction break. This bit hurt.
That’s it, no harder than this, except to repeat this step a further 19 times.
And this was a relatively narrow warp (39cm). Once on the loom (several days later) it looked like this.

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Lots of neatly lined up threads, all smoothly sitting on the warping beam. Not. As you can see, some are all a bit wobbly and wibbley and some threads had kind of hopped over into the next section while I wasn’t looking too, the little monkeys. I foresaw horrendous tension issues later on.
I managed to sort these out as best that I could and get it all threaded and tied on. It was lovely to be doing something familiar and comfortable, I was looking forward to the actual weaving, my favourite part.
I wound some pirns (the bit that holds the yarn in the shuttle), sat in front of the loom and pressed down the first treadle. Yikes!! What was that?!? Half of the threads went all scarily loose. I tightened the warp and tried again. Heavens, there it was again. Then I looked around the back of the loom, ready to glare threateningly at the sectional beam and saw this.

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I’d neglected to take the warp over the back beam. Horrors!
At this point Mr Weaving Heart happened to walk passed and caught me with my head in my hands, muttering softly to myself, possibly drooling a little too. He came to my rescue with a strong cup of tea, several chocolate biscuits and A PLAN. What a star!
He managed to take off the back beam, slid it under the warp without disturbing the threads and get it like this.

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All good and proper like. Hurrah!
Anyway, no tension issues later (how this happened I know not but I am oh sooo grateful), it looks a bit like this.

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